Muddy Caesar

julius caesar in egypt by George Frideric Handel, directed by Tom Diamond, conducted by Kenneth Montgomery, with Ewa Podles, Brian.


julius caesar in egypt by George Frideric Handel, directed by Tom Diamond, conducted by Kenneth Montgomery, with Ewa Podles, Brian Asawa, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Daniel Taylor. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird (1 Front East). Runs April 12 and 18 at 8 pm, April 16 at 7 pm, April 21 at 2 pm. $38-$135, stu/srs (ages 18 to 29) $15-$20. 416-872-2262. Rating: NN

Rating: NN

we came, we saw, we were disap-pointed.The Canadian Opera Company’s first performance of Handel’s 1724 opera, Julius Caesar In Egypt, isn’t the strongest argument for the work, at least in director Tom Diamond’s misguided kitsch-fest production.

Diamond’s like someone with attention deficit disorder who thinks his audience has ADD, too. Not trusting Handel’s score, he gratuitously adds a gang rape scene, suggests incest on the Nile and includes Serge Bennathan’s distracting modern choreography, which feels like a series of bad Gap ads: “Everyone in Egyptian skirts!”

That’s too bad, because the COC has assembled a glittering cast, headed by Polish contralto Ewa Podles, whose sturdy presence and agile, vivid voice — her low notes will curl your toes — create a believably wily politico title character and leader.

She’s well matched by local soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian’s Cleopatra, scheming and minx-like initially, tender and sympathetic later on, her silvery, world-class voice expressive and steady even if little genuine emotion seems to underlie it.

Daniel Taylor and Brian Asawa show off their countertenors well, though Taylor falls victim to Diamond’s cheap dramatics. Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s debut as grieving widow Cornelia is impressive vocally, though her part could stand chopping.

The orchestra, raised in their pit so we can actually see and hear them clearly, is thrilling, Kenneth Montgomery directing with exuberance and care. Unlike Diamond, he respects the music.

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